Unicorns 1/229 – Uber

Unicorns 1/229 – Uber


Founders: Travis Kalanick, Garrett Camp
Key people: Travis Kalanick (CEO), Thuan Pham (CTO), Ryan Graves (VP, Global Operations), Emil Michael (VP, Business)
Number of employees: 6,700

Uber Technologies Inc. is a transportation network company headquartered in San Francisco, California, United States, operating in 570 cities worldwide. It develops, markets and operates the Uber car transportation and food delivery mobile apps. Uber drivers use their own cars, although drivers can rent a car to drive with Uber.

The name “Uber” is a reference to the common (and somewhat slangy) word “uber”, meaning “topmost” or “super”, and having its origins in the German word über, meaning “above”.

Uber has been a pioneer in the sharing economy and the changes in industries as a result of the sharing economy have been referred to as “Uberification” or “Uberisation”. Uber has also been the subject of protests and legal actions.


Uber was founded in 2009 as UberCab by Garrett Camp, the cofounder of StumbleUpon, and Travis Kalanick, who had sold his Red Swoosh startup for $19 million in 2007.

Kalanick joined Camp and gives him “full credit for the idea” of Uber. On New Year’s Eve, Camp spent $800 hiring a private driver with friends and had been mulling over ways to decrease the cost of black car services ever since. He realized that sharing the cost with people could make it affordable, and his idea morphed into Uber. “Garrett is the guy who invented that shit,” Kalanick said at an early Uber event in San Francisco. The first prototype was built by Camp, and his friends, Oscar Salazar and Conrad Whelan, with Kalanick being brought on as a “mega advisor” to the company.

Following a beta launch in May 2010, Uber’s services and mobile app officially launched in San Francisco in 2011. Originally, the application only allowed users to hail a black luxury car and the price was 1.5 times that of a taxi.

In February 2010, Ryan Graves became the first Uber employee, getting the job by responding to a tweet from Kalanick announcing the job opening, and receiving 5-10% of the company. Graves started out as general manager and shortly after the launch was named as CEO. After ten months Kalanick succeeded Graves as CEO in December 2010. Graves stepped down to become the company’s COO.

In 2011, the company changed its name from UberCab to Uber.

During the initial development of the Uber app, the company created a think tank consisting of a nuclear physicist, a computational neuroscientist, and a machinery expert who worked on predicting demand for private hire car drivers and where demand is highest.


In July 2012, the company introduced uberX, a service option which allows anyone to drive for Uber using their own car, subject to a background check and car requirements. By early 2013, the service was operating in 35 cities.

The launch of the UberX service caused some dissatisfaction among existing drivers whose earnings decreased as a result of the increased competition at lower rates.


Uber announced a carpooling service called UberPool at the start of August 2014, after a beta testing phase in the San Francisco Bay Area. UberPool matches riders with another rider who is traveling in the same direction—the app will share the first name of the other rider and the planned route. The price for this service is less than all other Uber service levels.

In December 2014, Uber expanded the UberPool concept to New York City.

Self-driving car research

Uber autonomous vehicle testing in San Francisco in October 2016.

In 2015, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick spoke about his desire to eventually move to using self-driving cars for Uber vehicles. By May 2015, the company had hired many researchers from the robotics department of Carnegie Mellon University and established Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.

On September 14, 2016, Uber launched its first self-driving car services to select customers in Pittsburgh, including Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto using a fleet of Ford Fusion cars each equipped with 20 cameras, seven lasers, GPS, lidar and radar equipment that enables the car to create a three-dimensional map utilizing landmarks and other contextual information to keep track of its position.

On December 14, 2016, Uber began using self-driving Volvo XC90 SUVs in its hometown of San Francisco. On December 21, 2016, the California Department of Motor Vehicles revoked the registration of the 16 vehicles Uber was using for the test and forced the program to cease operations in California. Uber then moved the program to Arizona, where the cars are picking up passengers, albeit with 2 uber engineers in the front seats as a safety precaution. In March 2017, an Uber self-driving car was flipped on its side by a vehicle which failed to yield.

Helicopter service

In July 2014, Uber partnered with Blade to offer helicopter rides from New York City to The Hamptons for $3,000 each, including during Independence Day, in a service called “UberCHOPPER”. In 2016, the company partnered with Airbus for a one-month trial of “UberCopter”, a $63 Uber helicopter service, in São Paulo, a city famous for its extreme traffic congestion. Uber, in partnership with Blade, has also provided helicopter service for specific events, including the Cannes Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival with flights from Salt Lake City International Airport to Park City, Utah.

Uber announced on September 25, 2016 that it was looking into urban transportation with flying vehicles. At Re/code’s Nantucket Conference, the head of Uber’s products, Jeff Holden stated that the company wanted to “someday offer our customers as many options as possible to move around … doing it in a three-dimensional way is an obvious thing to look at.” A statement at the American Helicopter Society International-led joint workshop on Transformative Vertical Flight on September 29, Uber product manager Nikhil Goel stated that “To us, urban air transportation is simply a key initiative or our mission, right? Not only because it can cut congestion – it’s got massive potential to do that – but it allows us to move people from Point A to B much, much faster than you would otherwise. If you do it in all-electric vehicles, you can do it with zero emissions.” Uber published a 99-page “white paper” exploring the possibility of developing a “fully electric, vertical-takeoff-and-landing plane” network (called “Elevate“) within ten years, for use in short journeys. Although technically feasible, the development of such a program is expected to encounter safety and regulatory obstacles.

Mapping technology

In November 2015, Uber signed a global partnership deal with Dutch satellite navigation company TomTom to provide maps and traffic data for the Uber driver app across 300 cities. In September that same year, Uber began mapping UK city streets in an effort to identify the best pick-up and drop-off points. The lift-sharing firm plans to extend its mapping activities to other British cities including Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds.

Other projects

In April 2012, Uber launched the Uber Garage initiative in Chicago, a project to experiment with other ideas for urban transportation services. The first project from Uber Garage was to give Uber users the option to hire a regular taxi driver, or a crowd-sourced Uber driver.

DeLorean “time machine” provided by Uber

In September 2013, Uber offered rides in the futuristic DeLorean DMC-12 car from the Back to the Future film franchise. On September 4, 2013, Uber announced a promotion with the NFL Players Association to promote safe rides for NFL players. In March 2015, in collaboration with Dream Drive, Uber offered a luxury car-rental service in Singapore that includ ed Lamborghinis and Maseratis.

In August 2014, Uber launched Uber Essentials or Corner Store service, in Washington, D.C., which allows online ordering from a list of about 100 items. The service was cancelled in January 2015.

In May 2015, Uber launched its UberMilitary Families Coalition, which partners with existing military family organizations to recruit more military dependents, in addition to veterans, as drivers. In that same month, Uber updated its app to includ e accommodations for hearing-impaired drivers. On March 10, 2015, Travis Kalanick, Uber’s founder and chief executive, announced a partnership between Uber and UN Women, hoping to create 1,000,000 jobs for women globally by 2020. However, after pressure from trade unions and women’s rights organizations, UN Women declined to participate, citing safety concerns.

In November 2015, in collaboration with GrabOn, Uber offered Hot air balloon rides to customers in Hyderabad, India for INR 1,000. In September 2016, Uber and Bobbi Brown Cosmetics made a partnership for Bobbi Brown x Uber Retouch campaign, to celebrate the launch of the Retouching Wands and Retouching Pencils. Customers got an opportunity to take a ride with a Bobbi Brown Makeup Artist and quick make up course how to retouch make up on-the-go.

On April 11, 2017, Uber announced to launch a new patent purchase program, called UP3, which will seek to expedite the process of purchasing patents with an open application windows.